This woke movement, supported by capitalists, is disguising the class divisions that Marxism highlights.
Denna, förvisso kontroversiella, debattartikel har tidigare varit publicerad på den brittisk/US-amerikanska sidan Spiked. författaren heter Paddy Hannam.
It has become increasingly common for commentators to describe Black Lives Matter as a ‘Marxist’ movement. Most such characterisations have been pejorative, intended to discredit the organisation. But at the same time, one BLM co-founder was more than comfortable describing herself and her colleagues as ‘trained Marxists’.
It serves the interests of both critics and supporters of BLM to talk about it as a Marxist outfit. Critics get to dismiss BLM as part of the loony left, and supporters get to believe they are part of something genuinely revolutionary. But are they right?
Perhaps the most defining characteristic of Marxism is its explanation of class and its role in society. The Communist Manifesto famously claims that, ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’. In other words, class conflict is the driving force of history. Revolutions happen when societies can no longer contain that conflict.
Marx said such revolutions can only be successful if oppressed classes become sufficiently unified to be able to outnumber and overcome those in power. Attaining class consciousness, and rejecting the artificial differences imposed upon us by our rulers as a means of keeping us at war with one another, is key to bringing about change.
Fast-forward to today and many of the so-called Marxists of BLM are virtually devoid of any analysis of class at all.
One example of this refusal properly to engage with class is the accusation of ‘class reductionism’, levelled against those arguing that class is just as important as race in explaining inequality. Adolph Reed Jr – a black Marxist – was recently deplatformed for his ‘class reductionist’ views on race. Taking the traditional Marxist approach lands you in hot water with activists who live and die by the all-subsuming doctrine of institutional racism.
In fact, the BLM movement doesn’t only ignore class analysis, it also obscures the reality of class relations. The constant focus on ‘white privilege’, for instance, has come at the expense of any recognition that lots of poor white people suffer from deprivations, police violence and prejudice, too. Racial disparities are a problem. But obsessing over white privilege stands in the way of any real attempt to draw on the common experiences of the white and black working classes, with the aim of building a cross-racial campaign for change. Instead of putting aside our differences, we are encouraged to wallow in them.
Talk of ‘white fragility’, a term coined by Robin DiAngelo and discussed in her best-selling book of the same name, is an example of this trend. It undermines cross-racial unity by focusing on difference and by insisting that all whites are inherently racist. As Luke Gittos has pointed out on spiked: ‘By fixating on “whiteness” as the root of all the problems facing black Americans, DiAngelo discounts the possibility that solidarity in the face of common problems can be more powerful than racial identity.’ The same is true for BLM more broadly.
Indeed, how can the workers unite across racial lines if today’s anti-racist movement is right that the lived experiences of black and white people are so totally different? And if white workers are inherently racist, why would black workers want to join with them?
Modern identity politics wrongly views society as a split between a white ruling class and a non-white mass proletariat. It refuses to engage with the reality that Marx identified – that workers can be equally exploited regardless of their origins, and that the key to progressive change lies in building bridges between hitherto distinct communities rather than in setting them apart. In this regard Black Lives Matter clearly stands in opposition to Marxism.
Other woke campaigns have similarly been described (or dismissed) as an offshoot of Marxism. Right-wing critics of things like identity politics, political correctness and the trans movement say we are witnessing the rise of ‘Cultural Marxism’. But these movements are often more reactionary than revolutionary. We have only to look at how quick multinational corporations have been to endorse the woke worldview to see how utterly un-radical it is.
Every big firm from McDonald’s to Apple has doffed its cap to Black Lives Matter. Even members of the royal family – the epitome of inherited power and privilege – have backed BLM. When you have the backing of these sorts of people, you know you are not about to turn the world upside down in favour of workers’ revolution. The fashion today is less for champagne socialism and more for iPhone identitarianism, it seems.
The ‘Marxist’ appellation is not simply false, though. It is also both counter-productive and dangerous. George Orwell warned about the political implications of using ‘meaningless words’ in his great essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’. Bemoaning the abuse and overuse of the word ‘fascism’, in words that ring truer today than ever, he said that word now had ‘no meaning except insofar as it signifies something not desirable’.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of this desire to brand all political opponents as extremists, without much serious consideration of the terminology deployed. Such hollowing-out of language inevitably leads to confusion and misunderstanding. But it also inadvertently eats away at independent thought and expression.
Orwell said that, rather than pick the words that best and most clearly convey our meaning, many people often choose the easier route of ‘letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in’. If you do this, you allow these phrases to ‘construct your sentences for you’, and even to ‘think your thoughts for you’. Ultimately, this can lead to ‘partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.’
This is one of the ways we end up with commentators and politicians attacking their enemies by using little-thought-out terms which they cannot ultimately justify. This is how parts of the modern left are able to brand everyone and everything they disagree with as ‘racist’. But it is also how people can use the word ‘Marxist’ in a similar way, in place of proper analysis or critique. If we are fairly to reject accusations of racism made against anyone who does not take the knee for BLM, we must lead by example. We have to make sure that the words we use have meaning, and that we understand what that meaning is.
Paddy Hannam is a spiked intern.